A riot of flavours all neatly tucked into a crisp lettuce leaf
Larb: is a traditional Lao and Thai dish – perfect light, bright summer fare
Larb is a traditional Lao and Thai dish. It’s a salad that consists of highly flavoured ground meat (pork, beef or chicken) served on a bed of lettuce. It has bold flavours like fish sauce, chilli and plenty of fresh herbs such as coriander, basil and mint.
It’s a riot of flavours all neatly tucked into a crisp lettuce leaf. Perfect little mouthfuls of balanced sweet, sour and salty. The addition of toasted ground rice adds a pleasant nuttiness and great texture that’s essential for a true larb.
Khao Khua is the toasted rice powder and it can be bought already prepared, but is so easy to make at home. It acts as a thickener when added to sauces and dressings and has a toasty, almost popcorn flavour. It will not be obvious if you leave it out of the recipe but it does enhance the finished dish.
Traditionally, sticky rice is used but jasmine rice works fine too. A pestle and mortar is usually used to grind it to a fine powder. I like to serve a little bowl of Khao Khua on the table alongside the larb so that I can sprinkle it on each lettuce cup. Make a big batch as it will keep in the cupboard for future Thai recipes.
You can serve the larb with the meat on one big platter and an additional plate of leaves and sticky rice, or divide the pork among the leaves and serve them ready to eat. Either way it’s communal family food that you need to use your hands for.
I sometimes make larb with finely chopped mushrooms instead. The mushrooms absorb those fantastic fish sauce and lime juice flavours so well. This is perfect light, bright summer fare.
3tbsp white rice
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
400g minced pork
1tbsp fish sauce
1 red onion, finely sliced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 small bunch basil, leaves torn
1 small bunch mint, leaves chopped
1 small bunch coriander, leaves chopped
1 head lettuce (iceberg, cos, Chinese cabbage, endive)
For the dressing:
2tbsp fish sauce
2tbsp lime juice
1 First toast the rice. Tip the rice onto a heavy-based frying pan and toast over a medium heat, moving all the time, for about five minutes. The rice will become light brown and smell toasty. Leave to cool then grind it in a coffee or spice grinder till it becomes quite a fine powder, like sand. Some texture is okay. Set this aside.
2 Make the dressing. Mix the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar in a jar. Shake well to combine. Set aside. Arrange the lettuce leaves on a large plate, try to keep each one as a cup or little bowl.
3 Heat the oil in a wide frying pan over medium heat. Fry the garlic for a minute, ensuring it doesn’t colour. Then add the sugar and fry for another 30 seconds before removing it from the pan. Next increase the heat and fry the pork for five minutes, keep it moving around the pan. Once there are no signs of any pink in the pork, return the garlic to the pan. Lower the heat a little and ensure it is combined well.
4 Once the pork begins to colour, add one tablespoon of fish sauce and cook for a further minute, then remove from the heat. Add the dressing and fold the red onion, spring onion and freshly chopped mint, basil and coriander through the pork.
5 Spoon the meat mixture into the lettuce cups and sprinkle the top with some of the toasted rice. Serve right away with extra lime wedges.